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Players devote extra time to WBC preparations

by Kaz Nagatsuka

With two days remaining until the start of the World Baseball Classic, Team Japan held a light two-hour workout in the indoor facility of Jingu Gaien in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward on Tuesday afternoon. Due to cold weather, the team practiced there instead of holding its workout outside at Jingu Stadium.

The players devoted much of that time to batting practice, looking to make hitting adjustments after a deplorable offensive performance in the final two warmup games against the Seibu Lions and Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome, where the Asia Round will be held from Thursday until March 9.

Players, including Seiichi Uchikawa (Yokohama BayStars), Norichika Aoki (Tokyo Yakult Swallows), Atsunori Inaba (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters), Hiroyuki Nakajima (Lions), Yasuyuki Kataoka (Lions) and Munenori Kawasaki (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks), voluntarily arrived at Jingu Gaien earlier than required to take batting practice, as well as work on their mechanics and conditioning.

“I want to come in (the tournament) with less undone issues,” Aoki said. “Preparations are important and that’s why I came early.”

During batting practice, manager Tatsunori Hara pitched against Aoki, a left-handed batter. And it was a chance for the veteran skipper to test his player’s preseason batting form.

“As a player, I was glad that the manager took the ball for me,” Aoki said with a grin. “Now, I feel that I’d like to win for the manager, too.”

Overall, since there is one more pre-tournament workout day, on Wednesday at Tokyo Dome, the players and coaches appeared laid back and stayed calm. Especially cunning veterans like Akinori Iwamura, an infielder who plays for the American League champ Tampa Bay Rays, know how to brace themselves for the high-level pressure of this big-time tournament.

“It’s no use making a scene,” Iwamura said coolly. “We’re going to do what we’ve been doing. It’s going to come down to how much you can believe in yourself.

“I’d like to focus one day at a time.”

Ichiro Suzuki, meanwhile, still didn’t appear to be comfortable with his batting. The 35-year-old outfielder took numerous trips to the batting cage on this cool day.

Ichiro, who came to the facility early as well and played catch and worked on his batting, but did not offer any comments to the media. But he was reportedly making some changes to his batting stance, focusing on not opening his right shoulder too early.

Although it didn’t mean just Ichiro, Hara said his squad will only have to be productive to have a favorable outcome in the end.

“It’ll be a long stretch,” the skipper said of the WBC. “I just hope that our players develop step by step.”